Wednesday, March 4, 2015

On "the purity of being Brahmin" and other stories

Almost immediately after our car accident, we had to attend a family gathering which unfortunately turned out to be a total disaster. It was one of those instances where if your intuition says don't go somewhere - you have to listen. Now I know that - but then, I was just a typical Firangi Bahu who didn't want to let everyone down since they were waiting to meet our daughter. 

In hindsight, we all should have just gone back to the hotel and rested, after the car accident. Instead of getting into another car and driving across the city, only to deal with difficult people - a cluster f*ck of epic porportions!!!

We walked into the event, and people started conversing with us. Maya was in a really fussy mood from the accident, and she was very clingy to me. Neither she, nor I, wanted to be around a lot of people. I apologized to everyone that we were late and that we just in a car accident, and was met with blank stares - so much that I wondered if people could even understand me. I didn't know. In the small-talk conversations that I had with this percentage of our extended family, the car accident was completely dismissed - no empathy - which really threw me for a loop. It gave me a feeling that if we had just died, they would certainly show up at our funeral wearing silk sarees, but not shed a tear.

Maya was not feeling well to begin with, and many elders descended upon her like vultures with no concern for her personal space. Touching her, pulling her cheeks - she became even more fussy and was difficult for me to handle. I was happy to see one of my favorite of husband-ji's grandma's only to be told by her that maybe my daughter "doesn't like Indians". I was absolutely appalled. It was either, keep my mouth shut or reply just as rudely and risk elder abuse. In reality, I was too hurt for words to even form sentences out of my mouth.

I decided to diverge to another cluster f*ck of grandmas. Then, the eldest grandma of the clan decided that it was a perfect time to lecture me on being Brahmin and how great it was. She started off by asking if I was vegetarian. I said "Sure, I'm vegetarian," which was good enough considering I was vegetarian in India, at least! Then, she started her sermon. She went ON and ON and ON about what it meant to be born a Brahmin, how devout and godly Brahmins are, how Brahmins are the best in the world, and how innately "pure" they are. It was one of those times in life that are so surreal that you wonder if it is really happening, or if you are sitting back and watching your life unfold on a TV screen. Here was an old dinosaur woman - essentially no different than anybody else on this Earth - telling me that she was born with superiority. I felt really small, like there was something wrong with me. It was like she was sniffing me and saying, "I smell better than you". I felt like my presence in this Iyengars-only family had perverted their bloodline.

As a casteless, frequently-sinning foreigner, I wasn't sure how to reply to this. So, I did the next best thing - I asked her about her grandson who is living in the US. She replied that she has recently made a trip out West and visited him. Naturally, I asked her how her trip went and what sights she saw, trying to make the conversation flow away from her superiority complex. She told me that when she visited the US - although she was there for months - she only visited Hindu temples. She did not see any tourist attractions, like the Statue of Liberty or the Golden Gate Bridge. She ONLY visited temples - because that's the only place her Brahminism mattered. That's the only place that she would get special treatment - because outside of the temple doors, nobody in the West cares if you're Brahmin or not. 

And at that moment, I actually pitied her. I pitied her for the incredible world out there that she didn't see. But, for people like that, the world is divided into "Brahmin" or "not Brahmin". I imagined how much fun the Grandma would have if she just let herself loose, and went for breakfast at The Waffle House or something, and then spent the day touring a city's non-Brahmin landmarks. I imagined all the interesting and colorful people she would meet along the way. Instead of shutting the diverse beauty of the world out - by just going from house to temple.

I returned to husband-ji's side feeling mentally ganged up on, insecure, and claustrophobic. I mentioned to him that this Grandma only went to the temples in the US, and never even saw the Empire State building, and he gave the classic Indian eye ball roll and snort. "Useless person", he whispered to me.

(Obviously, he can say these types of things....and I can't...

Then the same dinosaur Grandma approached husband-ji and pointed to his heavily tattooed arms, and spat out with revulsion, "What is ALL this?

I knew husband-ji would have the best response, as he eagerly awaits moments like this to flex his muscles. And, as he was already irritated, I knew it would be a really good one. 

With a booming loud voice, husband-ji said, "you travel many miles as a pilgrim to worship your Gods, but MINE stay with me all the time. MY Gods travel WITH me everywhere. Now you tell me who is smarter...."

And that....was definitely my highlight of 2014!

Then, cueing the moment perfectly like curtains on the theater, Maya threw a tantrum and we had to leave. Perfect timing to get out of there. I don't think we were ever so happy to get back home!


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27 comments

  1. I am sorry you had to deal with all of that but I absolutely loved your husbands closing remarks. By the way, my husband says "useless person" all of the time...usually with "bloody" right before it. It's so simple but it completely sums up the experience of dealing with someone that just makes you want to bang your head against the wall.

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    1. Hahahaha they sound like they would be good friends! :)

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  2. Sorry you had to deal with such an irritating aunty!

    Please remember that only insecure people attempt to assert superiority in an attempt to make themselves feel better. I have had similar experiences and I think it is because Indian culture is completely status obsessed and some people like that aunty feel threatened by the mere presence of a foreigner who they cannot easily assign status. I know she upset you but really I pity such Indians like her because they are truly living in a fool's paradise. Even though they have often never even left India they believe that their culture is the best in the world but the reality is that India is one of the most backward countries in the world. Women are not safe from the womb to the grave, parents routinely prostitute their sons to the highest bidder (aka dowry), most people lack any basic empathy which is accompanied by rampant corruption, and the infrastructure is so poor that hundreds of millions of people lack even basic sanitation.

    International travel is a privilege and it is sad that the aunty squandered her chance to explore a different nation and culture. It would seem that she is actually a very cowardly person who is very afraid of exposing herself to a situation where the status she falsely believes she was born with is no longer considered valid.

    I have been there and I know that the urge is to scream but you cannot. First of all people like that want to bother you and you cannot let them have that satisfaction. Secondly, you do not want to embarrass your husband and his parents. My advice is to practice a completely indifferent neutral expression, appear completely bored. Eventually the speaker will realize you could care less what he/she is saying or run out of steam. - Regards, Rebecca

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    1. Very true.... I honestly just pity that Aunty. I am glad I kept cool, in hindsight.

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  3. Alexandra, I love that your husband has the sense of humor and style to say what he did. I would have become so irritated I would have said something very rude (and I often have) which would have resulted in a huge uproar (and it has!). I come from a Brahmin family myself (all of whom are collectively disowning me because I eat beef and I married a foreigner- gasp!) and there are those nuts in my family who do believe that Brahmins are superior etc. etc. What a load of crock. One of the most extreme one of these "Brahmins are superior" uncles had nothing to say when his own daughter married someone from another caste.

    Raina.

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    1. He totally made the evening! He always has a smart reply, I got to live vicariously through him on that one!

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  4. I am so sorry this happened and that this situation made you feel so terrible; my heart breaks for you.

    Remember that people can only bother and hurt you as little or as much as you let them. Claim your place without ever thinking that they are better than you caste or no caste, vegetarian or not. I have been reading your blog for a while and I can tell that you have made a lot of changes and sacrifices in your life in order to accommodate them. I have learned that Indians want everyone to change and cooperate with them but they are less than thrilled to reciprocate. And is it really necessary to socialize and become close and be accepted by all these people with a bunch of them never to be seen again? You don't have to be rude or commit "elder abuse" although I think that from time to time they need to be brought back down to reality just for the simple fact that they hide behind their age to spew close mindedness and hate thinking that no one will talk back to them. Simply say excuse me and walk away. Say nothing else. I've done that and I am pretty sure that I was perceived as rude but did I really cared... NO!!!

    With no offense to anyone I can tell you that the most arrogant, condescending and rudest Indian that I have ever met was a Brahmin and the most kind, loving and honest one - besides my hubby :) - was what they sadly referred in India as an "untouchable (dalit) ". So all these superiority complex is to account for their own personal shortcomings. Trust me in the US no one gives a hoot about caste; no wonder that aunty only visited temples; no one else would entertain her craziness!!

    Millie B

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    1. Millie, walking away is a great idea! I have a hard time hiding my amusement in these situations so that is a good solution. - Rebecca

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    2. Walking away is an excellent way to deal with it - I'm going to try that next time! The aunty just went ON and ON.....ugh!!!

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  5. Gosh, that is so sad! I am so sorry for that you had to go through that. They are the ones who bring shame to brahmins, with their close mindedness. Why would they even invite you to this event if they want to insult you?? Gah!

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    1. Suja,

      These people probably saw themselves as "educating the foreigner" and would have seen themselves as doing a public service. These are also the same people who will say- we are very broadminded.

      I've come across many such people in my "pure Brahmin" family- they will go on and on about how people who eat meat (I am one of "those people" who eats meat) are more violent, less intelligent etc. but will not take any notice at all of how they treat the maids who clean their homes or how they treat those whom they consider as below themselves.

      Raina.

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    2. In hindsight, I think that she was trying to educate me, and size me up (a.k.a checking on if I was a vegetarian, etc) and also try to place me in a status?!?! Totally weird way of getting to know somebody!!!


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  6. Gosh that sounds like a truly awful party :( Hugs.

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    1. Totally sucked. Was glad to get back home...and next time after a car accident, I'm going to immediately go home after!

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  7. haha...the husband-ji was awesome :) being a branhmin, i can honestly comment that they are such hypocrites. its okay, consider it as one such experience and you would laugh on it one day!

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    1. It def was unpleasant, but glad we had a laugh about it. What else can we do....lol

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  8. Hi Alexandra. My husband's family is an ultra fanatic kulin brahmin from Bengal. My MIL would sulk all day long as how my husband brought shame to the family and because of our union their reservation in heaven had been compromised. Still MIL hasn't come to accept me and my kids as their own. My husband and I have just learned to live with them.

    M Parbhoo Mukherji

    PS: I am an RCBC (Roman Catholic Brahmin Christian), but, still not good enough.

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    1. I am really sorry to hear that....it saddens me. At the end of the day, they are missing out...... hugs..

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    2. By telling "I am an RCBC (Roman Catholic Brahmin Christian), but, still not good enough." your are telling your are equally superior to them compared to others.

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  9. I LOVE your husband's reply to that auntie! LOVE IT

    This lady seem to belong to that breed of people that would rather stay home if they had the choice. She probably visited US against her will, just for the sake of her son who lives there.
    My husband once got stuck in Zurich living with a colleague that thought that way. He didn't want to do anything on weekends, no sight seeing nothing, just stay home and watch Indian videos on YouTube. He also didn't want to consume foreign brands of spices and even turned Zurich upside down to find an Indian grocery store that sold Tata salt, because you know, the regular local supermarket brand salt was evil or something. After 2 months of that, DH was glad to be rid of it and for me to join him there. Before my arrival he escaped to Geneva to meet my mom almost every weekend because she was happy to take him sightseeing in my homeland, then I took him sightseeing some more myself. He could not believe that some Indians he worked with just don't regard the opportunity to work abroad as anything else but a money making venture.

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    1. IKR?!?! I was like.....swoon!!!!!!! <3
      I think the only reason why she visited the US was so that she could boast about it/for a weird status thing. It sounded like she didn't enjoy it at all...
      That is just crazy about that dude in Switz!!!!!!!!!!! OMg!!!!

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    2. Bang on! The visit WAS made to brag about :D My MIL constantly spells out the virtues of the life in her natal village, but wants to emigrate to the US ;)
      And this bragging about being a Brahmin is pathetic - please understand that these women live vicariously through their fathers, brothers, husbands and sons. They have no identity of their own. And hence no confidence. This bravado is a smoke screen. Hence, they make a big thing of whatever little they have - in this case being a Brahmin. :D
      This woman was plain and simple threatened by you...

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  10. Oh god, that was stressful. I recently have been getting "preserve your bhramin culture, now that you are with a foreginer, ensure that your children get your bhramin values" lecture from relatives.

    That is plain annoying. When I don't do most of the culture related things, why would I force my kids? This is in a way like racism and a false sense of superiority.

    Husbandji 's replies are the best!!

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  11. Sorry to hear about your horrible evening, first an assault by a car and then to be accosted by some stuck up relatives. Am glad you all survived this ordeal, but hope you shrug it off. It must have been hard not to be impolite, but your husband had the right approach - just shame them by taking a higher ground.

    When any one asks me my caste, i just say I do not know and it is irrelevant. What matters are the work ethic and discipline that anyone can develop and not the sole prerogatives of one group.

    Some people only feel superior by putting down others, merely shows that their true ability is mean spirited and narrow minded. These caste focused people are living in the past and worse, cannot see the reality of the modern world where the egalitarian approach to others is the ideal. You could also remind them that Sri Ram was a Kshatriya and Ravana was a Brahmin! and in the ancient days caste system was just a professional classification and not permanent. A good time to remind these people that we are living in the 21st Century.





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    1. At the time, I was just in shock from the car accident and then from these interactions....it was just a numbing experience, too much to handle. I guess last time they didn't get the opportunity, so they just dove in. Now with hubby's tips, I feel more confident to handle such situations, although there is not much that I can say without being rude.
      Totally agree, the aunty is just living in such an old world....it is hard to believe that she still functions with caste being #1. Ugh.

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  12. Super answer !! Whistles whistles😉

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